Sunday, February 26, 2012

There Is Nothing Left, There Is Nothing Lost

I changed radically my way of training. Reason is that Big Sur is a hard course, hilly and windy, so I decided to add more mileage to my week, meaning I need to run more (duh). My races routine continues being the same, and honestly, I don’t think I will ever abandon it unless I am physically forced to. But, my week routine is very different. 

I am doing David Holt’s plan. He has 4 phases for a marathon, and each phase has a key work out. Instead of working a 7-day plan, the key work out is done every 4-5 days. Hills, for example, are the key work-out for phase I. So if I did Hills on Monday, I should do it again, on Fri or Sat. Then I rotate my days accordingly. This have added a lot of variety to my training and had diminished the boredom that I have had week after week, year after year: Tue: Speed, Thu: Tempo, Weekend: Long run.

I am also running at odd hours, rains, snows, or hails (never shines) an additional couple of 5-milers per week with Michelle, a new running partner. Michelle and I met 4 years ago through the blogging world, and though both of us live in Western WA, we never had the opportunity to meet in a race. We lived one hour far from each other, and she was more of an ultra runner and a well-deserved Marathon Maniac, so, there was not much of a common ground. But now she moved 3 miles from my home and she is not “ultra-ing” for now, so we have found that running together is an enjoyable thing, to the point, that waking up so early, and running in the rainy, cold, and windy darkness is pretty much unnoticeable. The only thing we notice in every run is that we are seizing the moment, thanking for the moon reflection over the sound, the smell of bark, or the salty smell that comes from the water. At the end, of the run, I only feel that sense of happiness for having done so.

As part of last week’s training, I did an anaerobic threshold workout in a 5K. It was a fantastic Saturday in Magnuson Park, at 39F/7C, felt like 31F/-1C with the windchill factor, and gusts of 40 mph. Lake Washington was very choppy, the cold was into our bones, but nothing deterred 400 Washingtonian runners. I ran very well with wind and all. My time was 26:32 for an 8:33 min/mile (My current PR is 26:19).

With this race I set my legs for a couple of back-to-back Half Marathons. Sunday at Birch Bay and Monday at Bothell for First Call President’s Day. Per David Holt you don’t need fresh legs for an easy long run, so an AT or VO2 max run could be done the day before, but not the other way around. The purpose of this back-to-back-to-back races was to tire my legs. I would run the Half slower than my regular pace, as I am not planning on getting injured. For those that follow Furman (Run Faster, Run Less), it is not recommended to back to back a speed workout with a long run. Reason is that Furman’s long runs are done at a hard pace. That’s why he has always a rest day between these workouts. Holt’s long runs are at easier pace.

I carpooled with Mike, a former boss. He and I have run several 5K together including Fremont Briefcase Relay. Mike is a great overall athlete: very good swimmer, biker, and runner. He’s done several sprint and Olympic triathlons and is currently training for Ironman Canada (Aug 2012). This was his first marathon ever. We drove very early and the 1h 45 min-drive passed by without much notice as we were catching up. Our races would start at the same time, and I would wait for him (his goal was 3:30). We wished each other well, and at 8 am we went into our adventure. I had a good run, letting my HR to dictate the pace. I certainly felt my legs, especially going down the long hill (mile 8ish), where my quads were pounding. It was cold and windy. At mile 10 my arms and hands were two pieces of ice stalactites. I clocked 2:17:11 for a 10:28 pace. My splits:

1-     10:16 – 143
2-     10:18 – 139
3-     10:31 – 148
4-     10:20 – 141
5-     9:53 – 142
6-     10:23 – 153
7-     10:40 – 160 (long uphill)
8-     10:28 – 155 (my quads couldn’t collaborate)
9-     10:33 – 143
10- 10:34 – 148
11- 10:51 – 146
12- 10:45 – 153
13-  9:37 – 166

I changed my upper clothes, dressed very warm, wool hat and all, and soaked my legs in coldy 46F/7C Birch Bay for 10 min. I don’t know how I could do it, but obediently I did. I was advised to do that to feel good for another Half the following day. After the soak I felt good already. Dried and changed, I talked to some volunteers while waiting for Mike. At 3:25 I was camera in hand to catch his first marathon finish. He crossed it in 3:29:02, and I was SO lucky (or good) that caught the image of Mike crossing the line with the clock and his official finish time.

He followed my advice of soaking his legs, though he didn’t feel like doing it for 10 min. We ate stuff we had for our trip and drove back to close Sunday with another fantastic race in our pockets.

I was very nervous when I woke up on Monday. I had never ran a Half Marathon two days in a row and I didn’t know what could happen. After socializing a bit, I started my new adventure, and let again my heart rate to dictate the pace. Guess what? Smart heart. It didn’t go to 80% as it always goes at the start of a 13.1 race. It settled in 70%, like telling me, you know what, there is no much power here, so let’s take it really easy. It was fantastic. I went along, and felt good. I wasn’t tired, or sore, or in pain. I just felt like in low gear. True that my HR couldn’t even go beyond 90% at the end when I always have some energy, but I never had that feeling “I want to end this”. I indeed felt good. I clocked 2:24:04 for an 11 min/mile. 

The song that played last on my iPod before finishing this run said it all: There Is Nothing Left, [but] There Is Nothing Lost".

1-     10:21 – 131
2-     10:43 – 132
3-     11:05 – 132
4-     10:53 – 135
5-     10:56 – 141
6-     10:56 - 139
7-     11:12 – 139
8-     10:54 – 145
9-     10:55 – 144
10- 10:48 – 151
11- 10:45 – 152
12- 11:07 – 162
13- 10:46 – 166
02/18/12 - 5K Magnuson Park - Presidents' Day
Soaking my legs in Birch Bay cold waters
Mike crossing the finish line.
Mike's turn to soak his legs

02/19/12 Mike and I with our corresponding bling

02/20/12 - First Call President's Day Half Marathon 02/20/12
With Stephanie at First Call - Presidents' Day

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Million Inch Run With The Company Of Your Beautiful Soul

When February knocks my door, the anxiety swells up and overflows; dreams pile up, and I can see you, talk to you, and even touch you. My soul is blissful because you are there. Then, when the dawn breaks, the anxiety is still there, but the dreams are gone, and the soul is saddened.

From the 1st of the month, every clip of your life’s picture is rolled before me, like a stream in slow motion. Every second repeats itself. And, then the 11th comes, and the same punch I received that day, is felt again, with the same intensity, the same pain, and the same uncertainty on what the impact would be.

A Million Inch Race, almost 16 miles/26K, are ahead of me. I will do a solo within a race; a solo with you and Serrat in the background; a solo to memorialize the third anniversary of your unexpected departure. Serrat will be there describing you in each of his songs, reminding me the past days, the joy, the smiles, the sharing, and our Locos Bajitos, that are neither locos, nor bajitos. I think about the race and divide it in 4 segments of 4 miles each. Low heart rate the first four, and increase it each four miles.

Serrat is sweet as always has been. I remember the tape with his music that I gave you back in early 1982, and that our beloved Ale keeps close to her heart; and the tape that we recorded to listen during Ale’s birth.  I transposed to the Teresa Carreño back when we went to see him. The final ovation was out of this world. Serrat closed again, and again, and again, to finally end his concert with Cantares in Catalan. Our hearts were swollen by that sentiment that only Serrat could produce in our lives, because Serrat was an important part of our lives. But nothing like the Locos Bajitos, your tears when you heard it for the first time. And I think of our kids, and I know  you gave them all the love and teachings you could give them. And they treasure, and will always treasure what they received from you through “the lukewarm milk and each song”. And the race continues, and my body feels good, though my heart is crying.

I am in the second phase of the race. I increase the pace and adjust the heart rate when Elegia plays. With each lyric, my heart cracks. Tears come streaming down my face along the Green River Trail. The time passes and with the inches of the race, the memories continue flowing one after another. It’s a good run. I hit the turn around and adjust the HR for the third phase. My system is in harmony.

Serrat talks to me, and tells me beautiful things. I elevate the HR and start passing people now. The HR strategy is working, again.  I am full of memories from a beautiful past. Señora… you wanted to sing that so much to my mom, and in your own and unique way you did. And your forever image is present: Un Soñador de Pelo Largo, a Long Hair Dreamer that departed too soon, but will forever be in the hearts of those that loved you.

4th phase of the race, and I crank up the HR. The run is fantastic. 2 miles from the finish line I see two guys in the distance that were way ahead of me. I am getting closer and closer in no time. My HR is at 176 and I can't believe I am so strong at the end. I assume they are hearing my steps because one of them keeps looking over his shoulder. The distance between us is rapidly shortening. I pass them and my legs are in total control; it’s only a matter of keeping the HR also in control. I am now one mile away from the finish line. I passed another guy half a mile to go. I am strong as I can be. Serrat sings “Who will close my diary when the last day of my calendar arrives?” And my answer is: I won’t do it, because your calendar will stay open forever and ever in my heart.

I see the finish line, and successfully cross it for a 10:12 min/mile pace.

It was a race full of emotions, memories, and love; eternal and the purest of the loves. It was a Million Inch Run With The Company Of Your Beautiful Soul.

Rest in peace, my beloved Luis.

Your beautiful smile
With your loco bajito David
With your loco bajito Diego
With your loca bajita Ale
With all your locos bajitos, David, Diego, Ale, and Camila
Mile Splits
1- 10:15 – 144
2- 10:30 – 143
3- 10:20 – 149
4- 10:15 – 152
5- 9:52 – 155
6- 10:16 – 158 (Gatorade stop)
7- 10:08 – 156
8- 10:10 – 155
9- 9:56 – 160
10- 10:07 – 162
11- 10:24 – 162 (Gatorade stop)
12- 10:04 – 166
13- 10:03 – 160
14- 10:16 – 166
15- 9:23 – 174
15.78 - 8:50 - 171

Sunday, February 5, 2012

My Nachos: Without Geoducks, Please

They didn’t look like runners. All athletes had jeans, flip flops, backpacks, with their parents carrying big bags, and towels. None of them had their heads/ears covered. It was a cold day (34F/1C).

We, runners, don’t go to a race in jeans. We go already race dressed. If we wear something else is sweat pants to be removed prior to the race. We wear headband or ear-bands, or hats when is that cold. We don’t wear flip flops before the race, let alone at that temp. We always arrive with our running shoes.  And we don’t carry backpacks to the race. We normally keep the bags in the car to change after the race, or do gear check putting all the clothes in a plastic bag. Maybe we have lockers accessible? 

As this race was in Evergreen State College, I asked myself if college runners do it this way.  I parked my car, and followed a parade of athletes, dressed as described before. I followed the crowd. After walking about 200 yards, I saw a sign: Swim Meet. Oh, this explains everything. I confirmed with one athlete that they had a swim meet and all these athletes were swimmers. I was in the wrong place. For a moment, I felt that sensation of satisfaction. We, runners, are easy to spot. We have something in common, we dress different to other athletes.

I went back to my car, and drove around to try to find the half marathon place. Entered in a parking lot with 3 cars, and led me to nowhere. I drove around and around, and had the instinct that I was driving away of where the race should be. Turned around. There was nothing. How come organizers don’t put signs in college campus: Geoduck Half Marathon THIS WAY???

After about 5 minutes, I saw a guy that looked like a runner. He was walking and I asked him if he was going to the Half Marathon and if he knew where the registration area was. He answered he was also lost.   He was walking around trying to find the place. That was an affirmation, that signs would be needed. Duh! Maybe this race was originally ran by people from the College, and everybody knew where the race place was? But now the race is more popular and certainly out-of-town people don’t know the campus?. I continued driving, and saw a couple, that also looked like runners. I asked them if they knew where the packet pick-up was, and they said: No, we have no idea, we are guessing where to go. I parked my car, and followed the couple, who were also following another guy that was also guessing. Then I saw my friend Sharon, and she told me that they did also drive around and saw the swimmers, noticing they didn’t look like runners. Fortunately her sister is from the area, and figured out where it could be.

After finally getting into the registration area, the first thing I wanted to tell the organizers was Geoduck race organizers, please, put signs to tell people where the gathering area is. Well, I didn’t. No need to stress them with my complaint, especially when I realized I left my checkbook, and was short $8 for the registration. So, I kept my words, and shyly asked if they would let me register with the caveat that I would send an $8-check on Monday. They were fine. I let go, they let me in.

It was 8:10 am and it was cold. Race was scheduled at 9. I chatted with Sharon for a while, and went back to my car to kill the world (i.e.: turn the car and heater on). I stayed there until 8:50 am (turning the car off after it was heated, and turning it on when it got cold).

At 8:50 I went to the start line, jogged for 5 minutes and got ready for the race. It was sunny, but the run would be along evergreens so it would be pretty much shaded and cold. I kept my arm warmers, a long sleeve technical and my new thermo breath Mizuno (I have had this type of wool technical since I started running in 2007, it’s made of wool and it’s fantastic for our weather). Had gloves and hand heaters.

My plan, as usual, was to go by heart rate, and hold myself during the first half or the race. This time I divided the race in 4 phases. First 3 miles at 148-150, 3 to 6 @ 158-160, 6 to 9 @ 165-168, 9 to 12 @ 173, and the last mile with all I have.  The first miles had a light decline and seemed fairly easy.  I wanted to push the pace, but held myself back trying to control the pace. I felt I was going slower than I could go. I was tempted MANY times to push the pace, really, but I told myself that this was a trial, and I needed to make sure I followed it to learn something. Nonetheless, before mile 4 we had a very steep downhill to continue with a furious uphill. The HR needed to be accommodated to the course as I needed to climb that hill with some strength, and I did at my max 183. It was very hard. At mile 6 I picked up the pace a little and accommodated easily. At mile 7 I was strong going uphill, though I pushed the effort, I thanked myself for holding the pace during the first half.

The course had some miles repeated but not all, for example mile 4 & 9 were the same, but 5 & 10 weren’t, so during the first half we may have turned right when in the second half we may have turned left or continued straight. Who knows, with so many trees, it was hard to know where I was, especially not knowing the area. Mile 9 was a repeat of mile 4 and we got the same steep downhill to continue with the same brutal super hill. This time was another story. I barely could get 165 in this climb, and my 4th phase of the race didn’t go as planned. After the hill, it took me a while to recover. At mile 11 I tried to push the pace as much as I could and dropped the pace by 20 seconds, and by a lot more for the last mile (splits below).

I crossed the finish line in 2:12:45 for a 10:09 pace. I saw Sharon, who gently handed me water. I only got to tell her. I am glad I held myself back. I don’t know what would’ve happened if I would’ve gone crazy at the start.

Got 2nd in the division, got my ribbon, some pix, and ready to drive 90 miles back home for Super Bowl with hubby and a fabulous recipe of low calories nachos. I could've honored the mascot of Evergreen State College and the name of the race having them as part of my Super Bowl menu, but as much as I love clams, I pass on this type, they look simply disgusting. My Nachos: Without Geoduck, Please.

Mile 1 – 10:22 - 153
Mile 2 – 10:33 - 149
Mile 3 – 10:29 - 156
Mile 4 – 10:13 - 162
Mile 5 – 10:18 - 165
Mile 6 – 9:52 - 166
Mile 7 – 9:54 - 171
Mile 8 – 9:50 - 170
Mile 9 – 10:15 - 164
Mile 10 – 10:38 - 167
Mile 11 – 10:33 - 167
Mile 12- 10:12 - 175
Mile 13 – 9:25 – 180

Sharon goes for a brownie...
Not as high calories as regular nachos (I didn't say low calories nachos)

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Houston, Peace, And Salt

On December 2010 I saw a Marathon Olympic Trials ad. The trials were scheduled in Houston on January 2012. Houston Marathon would be the following day. I told to my daughter Ale: I got to go… And I did.

I set a big PR as a goal, 15 min or so, for a 4:30. I was training hard but I had too much work that limited my training, There were weeks with 60 + hours. Also, my family came from overseas, and to spend time with them was my priority. Though I got up at 3:30 am to run and be able to spend the afternoons with them, my training was not the same. I did a couple of 20 milers, some other long runs, but not as much as I was planning to. Heck, there will be other marathons to get that goal.

On Friday 01/13 I flew to Houston. I registered in my hotel (1.6 miles from start/finish area, the closest I could find) and went walking to the expo. The atmosphere around the Convention Center, the Hilton, and Discovery Green was dazzling. It was festive, joyful and you could only breath “excitement”. After getting my packet, and looking around, I went to the park across the street for the Olympic Trials Opening Ceremony. Got the great opportunity to see Meb Keflezighi, Deena Kastor, Bill Rodgers, Joan Benoit Samuelson and Frank Shorter. The ceremony started with the athletes parade and then a recognition to Deena, Meb, Joan and Frank, all Marathon Olympic Medalists. After the recognition, there was a beautiful and fantastic display of fireworks that made the night as shiny as could be.

After the ceremony I went to my hotel, had dinner and went to bed early. The trials were scheduled at 8 am the following morning. I wanted to be in first row, so my plan was to get there at 6 am.

There were some of the trials runners in my hotel. I had breakfast with Deena Kastor’s in laws, and shared some running stories. There was no need to walk at this hour to the convention center, especially when a cab is so cheap (US$ 6.00). I shared a cab with Deena’s in laws, and one female Olympic Trials Qualifier and her husband.

I got a great spot, and chatted with a bunch of people. The atmosphere was simply grand, and of course, contagious.

The trials course was an initial loop of 2.2 miles, and then 3 loops of 8 miles. This gave us the fantastic opportunity to watch the runners 4 times. It was a delight. Men started at 8:00 and women at 8:15. My favorite for the US Olympic Team were: Ryan Hall, Meb Keflezighi and Dathan Ritzenhein “Ritz”, and for the women’s team: Desiree Davila, Shalane Flanagan, and Deena Kastor.  I lost my voice cheering for them and took as many pictures I could take.

To all my marathon runners friends, taking part of the Marathon Olympic Trials is worth of experiencing. Put it in your calendars for 2016. !!!

After the trials, I hung out with some “bleachers companion” and went back to my hotel around noon. Plan was to rest, take a nap, and do nothing, and nothing. And I did. Had lunch, took a nap, got up, got all my gear ready, had a snack, fell asleep, got up, took a shower, had dinner, went to bed, and continued sleeping.

On marathon day I got up at 4, got ready, had a muffin, a banana, water, checked out the hotel, and took a cab to the convention center. I checked my clothes, took my weight (135 lbs), and while going to the porta pottie, I remembered a very curious question in the FAQ Marathon site: Will there be a church service before the race? Yes, Catholic Mass in Hall C and Protestant Church services in Hall B will begin at 5:30 a.m. 

I was very surprised, because the way this country is going, just mentioning the word “religion” has become in some circles, even politically incorrect. One of these days it will become the “R” word.

I have had big issues with the Catholic Church, and organized religion in general, and in some way, I have broken with it. This break had been very difficult for a hard core Catholic, but a "race mass" was an opportunity to taste the waters (my waters), so I decided to go in. It was difficult. Just the gathering was inspiring. The song that the choir was singing when I entered in Hall C, was a very mellow rock melody, with spiritual lyrics that I have sung since a teen, and my kids have sung in their school's masses as well. The waters moved violently. I felt butterflies in my stomach. I lost it and I cried. My thoughts were diverted to what are the real teachings here.  Simply be good, share, and do good. And that was the learning that I had all my life from that man that was good, shared, and did good; a man that, we Christians, have always called a friend; a friend that I have dismissed for the last 3 years, simply because my life demanded a different explanation. And then, I took communion as a symbol of peace. I made peace with a friend. Hey JC, JC won't you smile at me?

After Mass I went to a long porta pottie line lost in my thoughts. Weird in me, I didn’t even feel like talking to anybody. Then, to my corral, national anthem, a prayer, corrals started moving, disposable clothes are removed, crossed myself and there I went.

I went, of course, by heart rate, and ran focusing in just a mile at a time. The first half was pretty good. It flew by, the course was flat and easy. I caught up with the 4:30 pacer and stuck with her for a couple of miles until I started feeling fatigued. I needed salt. As a heavy salty sweater, I always carry with me 2 small packages when running a marathon. This time, it was not in my radar, I don’t know why. Around mile 17 or so I asked the medical tent if they had salt. They didn’t but they had pretzels. I licked them but couldn’t eat them. My mouth was too dry, and I had just passed the water station. At mile 19 I got to shake hands with Mr. President George H. Bush (41). At mile 20 or so, I needed salt very badly but the medical tent didn't have packets but pretzels. I got the pretzels and licked them, though couldn't eat them. I felt hot and had to pour water on my face at every aid station. I was getting slower, and slower, At mile 24 I got weird cramps in both quads in the same place, mirroring each other, and that was a sign to me that something weird was going on. I reduced my pace to a slow jog and after half mile the cramps were gone. My legs and heart wanted to run but my fatigue level was absolute. When I saw mile 25 and downtown skyscrapers I knew I had made it. One mile to go, though slow, it went fast. I could sprint my final stretch, and felt really good when crossing the finish line. But, as they took my weight after the race the medical team found out that I had gained almost one pound, what definitely was the sign of the body not releasing water. I didn't feel bad but got blood tested, and my sodium levels were low. I did have hyponatremia. This was my 8th marathon and first time I get physiological issues. I felt hot because I was not sweating. I over drank water. I was sent to triage for one hour, and got a new experience. 

This marathon was neither my personal best, nor the big PR that I was hoping so, but the weekend experience, with the Olympic trials and learning that I am a very easy candidate for hyponatremia was a very good thing. I am thankful for my finish (4:56) and for not getting in worse conditions.

From the convention center I went to the airport and after flying for 4 hours I got to a white town, covered with snow. A snowstorm that had us under snow and ice for a week. I ran just few miles here and there and decided to take a 2-week break before starting my training for next marathon: Big Sur, CA. Not an easy one.

An exciting experience: Houston, Peace, And Salt.

First Call

First call according to the funeral business is the "first call" they receive when somebody dies. That was the story shared with me by a runner that happened to work in this type of business. Not a good story when you had just finished a COLD half marathon on January 2nd; when you are still resting from a delicious and lazy Holidays break; and when you feel, like, well, dead.

For PNW runners, First Call means a nice running group, that puts together low key half marathons, marathons, and ultras, in a special place along Sammamish River. Races are on days like Veterans Day, Presidents Day, and why not, almost the first day of the year.

I knew about this group several years ago, but did not dare to join those races. Knowing they were small, I felt intimidated thinking that everybody may know everybody but me... However, last Veterans Day, Nov 2011, I decided to go, and liked the group very much, the organization, and the fantastic potluck they have after the races. And, in top of that, the races are run in my favorite spot for long runs, the Sammamish River Trail.

The race was 2 weeks before my Houston Marathon, so I went just to log the miles. I timed 2:23:55 and felt like the First Call on the funeral business: dead. But as every race, it had its rewards. I had the opportunity to finally meet Michelle (in person) a blogger I met 4 years ago. Even though we knew we were both from W. WA, Michelle used to run mainly ultras, and marathons one after another, so the opportunities to meet were not too high.

I started the year racing, and I hope to end it the same way. Not sure if I would be able to beat the number of races I ran in 2011 (52), but I will sure try. And for sure, more than one will be from the First Call.

With Michelle

With Prez... Half Fanatics Head Honcho

Half Fanatic singlet (first I have). Christmas gift from my son and daughter-in-law...